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Aluma goes big: Is Virginia Tech maybe better without Radford?

keve aluma
Keve Aluma had a career-high 29 points for Virginia Tech in a 65-51 win over UVA on Saturday. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Is it possible that losing Tyrece Radford has made Virginia Tech better, sort of an addition by subtraction kind of thing?

Virginia coach Tony Bennett made an observation to that effect after his eighth-ranked Cavaliers were beaten soundly by the Hokies, 65-51, on Saturday in Blacksburg.

“They are missing a really good player, and I get that. What happens with that is that it opens up a little more space for (Keve) Aluma to go to work,” said Bennett, whose team was shredded by Aluma’s career-high 29 points, on 10-of-15 shooting from the floor.

Aluma had 16 of the Hokies’ 21 points in the first half, keeping his team in shouting distance, down eight, 29-21, at the break, going 6-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-3 from three.

That 2-of-3 from three was more significant than you can imagine.

“Getting that first three down was a big deal. Now, Jay (Huff) has got to come to the perimeter and guard him a little bit,” Tech coach Mike Young said. “He made another one, which really gives you heartburn, there’s little things that go on that affect how you want to handle things, and that happens to me often.”

What it did for Bennett, after Aluma pump-faked Huff into oblivion, then dribble-drove to the rim for dunk with 6:10 to go, was make him decide to sub out Huff, who had been taken to the woodshed by Aluma one time too many for his coach’s liking.

Aluma, and the Hokies, would go scoreless for the final 6:10 of the first half, with Bennett going to reserve Francisco Caffaro on Aluma for a stretch, then switching to Trey Murphy III.

But Huff, the linchpin of the Virginia offense, couldn’t sit on the bench the rest of the night.

He picked up his third foul on an Aluma and-one at the 14:23 mark, earning another Bennett hook – and taking Virginia out of its offensive rhythm.

By the time Huff got his fourth foul with 7:08 to go, what had been a double-digit UVA lead was all gone, and though the score was tied at 47, you could see where things were going.

With Huff on the bench, Aluma made the game his – scoring on another and-one, a short jumper, another short jumper, and the Hokies were up 12 by the under-four timeout.

“He wasn’t very good against Wake Forest, he wasn’t very good in the next one (Syracuse), he was better on Wednesday at Notre Dame,” Young said of Aluma, who, yeah, had been in a bit of a funk.

He had five points on 1-of-6 shooting in the 64-60 win at Wake on Jan. 17, then two on 1-of-9 shooting in the 78-60 loss at Syracuse last weekend.

Then you get the news that Radford, the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder, and best perimeter defender, is out indefinitely, and you think, time to push the panic button.

The defense has been sound – allowing 51 points in the wins this week at Notre Dame and then tonight at home against Virginia – and the offense has a different, and maybe more open, look and feel.

Radford, at 6’2”, gets most of his offense in the lane. It may be, as Bennett observed, that having him take up space in the lane served as a curb on Aluma and what he can do in the post.

“You could see he could get us in foul trouble,” said Bennett of Aluma, who had been averaging 5.3 free-throw attempts per game coming in, and was 7-of-8 at the line in the win on Saturday.

“He has great footwork, as well as fakes, and then then he hit a couple of threes, which he is capable of, but hasn’t made any in ACC play. I was hoping Caffaro’s physicality could at least stand him up a little bit, and that didn’t happen. We tried to trap him at times, a couple times we did well, and they made some plays out of it. They can really move with some of those shooters coming off screens.”

You missed it looking at the 29 in the statline for Aluma, but he also had four assists – three on Hunter Cattoor threes, the other on a Wabissa Bede three, all in the second half.

That guy who transferred from Wofford two years ago after averaging 6.9 points a game there just accounted for 41 points in a win over the defending champs.

“He had a heck of a game. Hats off to him,” a humbled Huff said after the game.

“I hope we get to play him again and have a different result.”

Story by Chris Graham


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